For those of us having had the good fortune to have raced behind a Derny it’s easy to lay our lack of talent or form firmly at the wheel of the Derny Pacer with comments such as, “that was an interval session, how could I be expected to win?” Or “I was shouting at him to go faster but he’s completely deaf”. Let these comments cease – Derny Pacing is a fine art and we should hold Derny Pacers in high regard!

For those of us having had the good fortune to have raced behind a Derny it’s easy to lay our lack of talent or form firmly at the wheel of the Derny Pacer with comments such as, “that was an interval session, how could I be expected to win?” Or “I was shouting at him to go faster but he’s completely deaf”. Let these comments cease – Derny Pacing is a fine art and we should hold Derny Pacers in high regard!

As profound as this statement may seem there are multiple reasons why good Derny Pacing should be considered ‘art’, not least of which is the amount of skill it takes to ride the rather agriculturally built Derny at a steady speed even before the introduction of a Follower (rider) or other Pacers to the track. I’ll expand on this later.

With various motor-paced events, such as the Bordeaux-Paris and Track Cycling League at Reading along with four Dernyfests and the Derny Nationals at Scunthorpe being staged around the country during the summer months there is always a call for Derny Pacers.

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So with these types of event in mind, Derny-meisters Seán Bannister and Clive Strugeon arranged training for sixteen wannabe Pacers with the aim of qualifying them as Training (Class C) or Racing (Class B) Pacers or as Tutors.

Starting promptly at 8am, at the wet and unseasonably chilly Gosling Stadium, the session began with Seán leading an informal introduction and briefing in which the key message was, “Safety driven, follower centred”. This message is the key statement with which all Pacers become instantly familiar and it is this that ensures those following can ride at high speeds, in close proximity to one another with relative security. It is the key component and crucial to the ‘art’ of Derny pacing.

Clive then gave a thorough introduction to the Derny using various machines explaining their mechanical differences and stating the need to check tyres, brakes, chain tensions, fuel etc. prior to each ride while again stressing the “Saftey driven” message. With this done it was onto the track for a lesson in firing the Derny motor. Like all masters of their art Clive made the process look unbelievably simple.

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Those expecting an electric start were in for shock, the process being more eclectic than electric. Petrol on, prime carb, engage the decompression level, lawnmower-type throttle to 6mm, wheel back finding the piston’s top dead centre, run, weight the saddle, pull the decompression lever… nothing. Repeat… nothing. Pant then curse silently. Once again, pull, push, run, weight… bingo!! The little 98cc Puch engine fires into life and we’re off taking care to avoid being hit by the fixed gear pedals and wondering at the alien nature of it all. It really is extremely odd at first.

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Participants were divided into two groups of eight with each going through a progressive series of Derny exercises followed by group discussion. On several occasions one or other group was made to repeat an exercise before progressing to the next step. Invariably, Pacers not following instruction letting their inner racer get the better of them caused this. But with the mantra “safety driven, rider centred” being reiterated time and again this habit was soon overcome. Having mastered several controlled Pacing sessions, Followers (riders) were introduced into the practice.


From my own perspective this was the point at which I realised just how vital the skills of the Pacer are. The Pacer is almost entirely responsible for the safety of the Follower and it is vital that the taught rules and disciplines are observed at all times. How often do we follow a Derny with scant regard for anything other than a two-inch square section of mudguard, the pace of our breathing and the level of pain in the legs? We put almost complete trust in our Pacer. I just hadn’t reasoned this fully until I slung my leg over the little motor.

After various sessions with followers, including starts, five mock races were run with five laps being ridden and a controlled 25mph before five further laps at race-pace. As a Pacer consideration must be given firstly to safety, then rider ability, pick-up, smoothness of acceleration, other Pacers and Followers, climatic conditions, transitional speed out of the corners, racing regulations (strictly no undertaking) and then the agricultural lawnmower-like Derny.

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The vagaries between two Dernys can be incredible. One machine running like a bitch at 25mph needing constant throttle fettling with another launching out of the blocks like Usain Bolt under the merest throttle action. Now, this may not be appropriate for the few personal Derny owners but most Pacers will be using a machine owned by a track so please do bear that in mind when uttering one of the aforementioned post-race complaints. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that we all underestimated the complexity of the task prior to riding a Derny.

The long track session finished at 5pm and was followed by a final debrief and the completion of logs.

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It was a very successful day with all participants indebted to their tutors who enabled them to pass their test to Class B, or for those with thi
s accreditation already, to become tutors themselves.

It would be remiss not to single out several people for special thanks;

Seán Bannister and Clive Sturgeon for organising and tutoring (and ferrying 6 Dernys to and from Reading), Graham Mitchell as clerk of the course, Doug and Francis as Welwyn Derny-meisters plus their invaluable practical help on the day, both Welwyn Wheelers and Reading Velodrome Racing who provided their Dernys free of charge.

Finally, and by no means least, the volunteer Followers who had a free day of tutoring and excellent high intensity speed training as the day proceeded. I expect they were all knackered at day’s end!



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